Captain Blunderbolt, by Carol Ann Martin

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school…

We shouldn’t have wagged school, I know.
Not when our lessons were costing Mother threepence a week. But the whingeing started the minute the door of our slab hut fell off behind us. (Father was not very good at building huts.)
‘I don’t like it! I’m not going!’ That was Maudie. She had started school only four days ago. Already she’d decided that it wasn’t for her.
Tully was just plain cranky. He was missing Father, who had probably got himself lost again. Getting lost was something Father was good at.

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school they witness a failed coach raid by the famous Captain Blunderbolt. The occupants of the coach are initially frightened, but on witnessing Blunderbolt’s incompetence are moved sufficiently to offer donations. Meanwhile, the school bully is up to his usual tricks. Now he’s spreading a rumour that Alberta’s Father isn’t off trying to find gold, but is actually Blunderbolt. Each page includes colour illustrations often with headers and footers to break up the text.

The Mates series from Omnibus delivers short chapter books for newly independent readers. Each includes an iconic Australian story. All include a delightful dose of Aussie humour. Captain Blunderbolt introduces a new generation to our colonial history in a light-handed and informative manner. History can be dry and dull, but in the Mates format, it is anything but. Each offering opens the way for discussion about life in Australia, with all its joys and challenges. In Captain Blunderbolt the reader discovers that life was tough for settler families, with fathers needing to go away from home to find work. It also opens the discussion about the rich and the not-so-rich, and the inherent inequalities that can come with it. A particularly welcome aspect is the reference to Mother’s practical capabilities. As with all the offerings in the Mates series, readers will come for the humour, stay for the story and come away with more understanding of the rich Australian culture we all share. Recommended for newly emergent readers.

Captain Blunderbolt (Mates)

Captain Blunderbolt , Carol Ann Martin & Loren Morris
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918238

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Buzz Off! by Randa Abdel-Fattah

It’s stinking hot. I’ve thrown the blanket off my bed. I’m lying spread out, trying to fall asleep. But the cool change hasn’t come and my skin is prickly with sweat.
I close my eyes and I can see myself jumping into our swimming pool. Thinking about water cools me down. I start to forget about the heat. My body relaxes. I’m about to fall into deep sleep.
Suddenly …

Noor can’t sleep because it’s too hot. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, along come the flies. Buzzing all about, but impossible to catch. Then Noor realises he can hear them talking. Suddenly the game changes. Noor, already fly-fighter extraordinaire, is insulted when he discovers just what the flies think of him. Now it’s personal! He hatches a plan to get rid of all the flies. But sometimes the solution isn’t quite the solution it seems to be. Illustrations are colourful and cartoon-y and appear on every opening. Most pages also include a header and/or footer showing some of the fly’s favourite foods. Challenging words, or even just words to be emphasised are in different, larger fonts.

The ‘Aussie Mates’ series has produced some very funny new Aussie yarns. And certainly, nothing feels more Aussie than flies. No barbecue or picnic is complete without flies. This time, though, the notion of Australian-ness has been expanded to portray some of newer Australians. Mum wears a headscarf but she also wears a hat with corks strung from it. Noor wants to rid the world of flies, but it’s soon clear that every creature has a purpose in the world, even if it seems like flies are just there to stop him sleeping and to dive into his family’s food. In the way of these yarns, the magical elements (like being able to understand fly-talk) are woven in with little explanation. None is needed. It’s clear that these are tall tales, designed to be collected and enjoyed. The ‘Aussie Mates’ series is for newly independent readers, but there’s plenty of fun to be had for older readers.

Mates: Buzz Off

Mates: Buzz Off Randa Abdel-Fattah, Dan McGuiness
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918481

Aussie Dog, by Eleanor Nilsson

It was June, cold and dry.
Sophie couldn’t wait a minute longer.
‘Mum, I know what I want for Christmas. I only want one thing.

Sophie is absolutely certain that she only wants one thing for Christmas. And birthday too, if necessary. A puppy. And she knows just exactly what sort of puppy she wants. She has their life together mapped out. But life doesn’t always deliver what we think we most want. And that’s certainly the case here. Boris is nothing like the dog she’s researched, prepared for and even named. But it’s Boris who has come to stay while her owner is out of action. And Boris is almost the exact opposite of the dog she must have. She’s going to have to work hard to get the dog she wants. Coloured illustrations on every page add humour and break up the text into achievable bites. (he-he) A header and footer suggest the great Australian backyard.

Aussie Dogis a new title in the Omnibus Books series of Australian tales for newly independent readers. Text type varies and highlights words that may provide extra challenge, or perhaps just need emphasis. Sophie is every child who has ever wanted a dog. She’s done her research and she’s sure her fairy tale dog exists and is just waiting for Sophie to discover. There is a gentle suggestion that what we want is not always what we get, but that it can be even better. But it’s subtle. Aussie Dog, like other offerings in this series, has a laugh a page as a child’s imagining is brought to life. Although Sophie seems totally single-minded, she is an open, good-natured and helpful sister, daughter, friend. Recommended for children transitioning from picture books to longer texts, and older children needing an accessible read.

Aussie Dog (Mates)

Aussie Dog , Eleanor Nilsson, Beth Norling
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918689

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

The Heart of the Forest, by Barry Jonsberg

Personally, I blame Granddad.
Mum and Dad walked a hundred metres ahead. I trailed behind them. Aaron trailed behind me. Words floated back, like leaves spinning in the air.
‘…staying a month?’ yelled Mum.
Her hands fluttered. Not a good sign.
‘…can’t stand it …moans all the time …mutters constantly.’
Dad’s hands entered the battle.
‘…is my father, after all…not his fault…old…’
I lagged further behind.

Twins are supposed to have a special bond, but Keely has some reservations about that theory. But she’s not really thinking about that when the family travel to the Blue Mountains to take a walk. She’s thinking about surprising Mum and Dad and making them smile for once. There haven’t been that many smiles lately. But her plan is turned upside down when she becomes lost off the path. Now she can’t see or hear her parents. Aaron is there, but as the older (by two minutes) twin, Keely is not listening to what he says. She’s sure she knows best.

The Mates series from Omnibus are short punchy, illustrated stories, un-ashamedly Aussie-Australian. They often involve the unique environment that is part of the lives of most Australians (even if it’s only on holidays for city-dwellers). Like all good stories, there’s often a twist in the tail, and The Heart of the Forest sure has one of those! It differs from many of the other titles in this series in that it has less humour, but don’t be put off by that. It’s a lost-in-the-bush story with its own special magic. Granddad, who gets the blame

for the whole sorry mess, is nowhere to be seen/heard. The Heart of the Forest has short chapters, illustrations on each page and words highlighted (some challenging, others confidence-building). Recommended for newly independent readers.

The Heart of the Forest , Barry Jonsberg Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918139

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Tomato Sauce, of Course, by Moya Simons

I stood on the kitchen chair with the pantry door wide open. I shoved cans of tuna and soup to one side.
No, I couldn’t see what I wanted anywhere.
My mother walked into the kitchen. She said, ‘I’ve already told you, Tammy. That brand of tomato sauce isn’t available any more.’
‘But, but, but…’ I said.

Tammy loves tomato sauce, but not just any tomato sauce. She loves Aussie Tomato Sauce. She eats it with every meal, even occasionally with dessert! But the Aussie Tomato Sauce company has gone broke and now Tammy is in a desperate search to find the last bottle. She reasons there must be one somewhere. And she does find a last lonely bottle of her favourite sauce in the shop on the way to the beach. But that’s just the beginning of her adventure. Things get very tomato-coloured after that. Coloured illustrations appear on every opening and Tammy swims to safety across the ocean border at the bottom of (almost) every page.

The Mates series from Omnibus continues to produce great Aussie yarns. These tall tales are designed for newly independent readers. Potentially challenging words (or even just words for emphasis) are in different fonts. Chapters are short and the action bounces along. Tammy has a supportive, if long-suffering, family and an understanding best friend. Her school assignment knowledge comes in handy at the end of the story and helps get her out of trouble. Recommended for mid-primary readers. Great fun.

Tomato Sauce, Of Course! Moya Simons, Jim Grimwade
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918801

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Hanging Out, by Catherine Bateson

When Mum told me my cousin Weston was coming to stay with us for a week of the school holidays, I was totally alarmed.
‘Why here?’
‘Aunty Sharon and Uncle Jason have won seven nights on a cruise ship. Just imagine – seven nights of no cooking, no washing up, no worrying.’
‘He can’t come here!’
‘Of course he can,’ Mum said sharply. ‘We’ve stayed with them.’

Ben is worried about his Sydney cousin coming to stay. When they stayed Weston and his family they had visited everywhere from the zoo to the harbour bridge and more. Ben is worried that Weston will discover that he was exaggerating the wonderful things about Melbourne. But despite his misgivings, Weston arrives. He’s keen to do and see all the things Ben bragged about. After a slow start, Ben discovers that they can have just as much fun at his house, and that Weston is just as impressed with Ben’s Melbourne as Ben was with Weston’s Sydney. Colour illustrations on every opening extend as well as illuminate the text. Potentially challenging words are presented in different fonts.

Hanging Out is part of the Mate series from Omnibus Books. They are beginner chapter books for newly independent readers. But they also celebrate what it is to be Australian. The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is explored and gently rocked. Catherine Bateson points out that home is where family and friends are, that the rest is just bonus. Ben and his cousin rediscover just how much fun they can have together. Many of the offerings in this series are tall tales. Hanging Out is less tall tale, but no less iconically Australian for that. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Hanging Out (Mates)

Hanging Out , Catherine Bateson, ill Adam Carruthers
Omnibus Books 2010

ISBN: 9781862918290

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard, by James Moloney

Bern saw the lizard first, but it was Cody who named him Tarantula.
‘Tarantula! That’s a kind of spider,’ said Bern.
‘Yeah, I know. A really scary spider,’ said Cody.

Bern and Cody live in the Australian bush on a cattle station. They find and tame a frill-neck lizard, ‘feeding him insects on the back verandah’. Bern’s an action man, but Cody is more reflective, and sure he can understand what Tarantula is thinking. Uncle Mo comes to stay and notices how fast Tarantula can run. He sees the chance to enter the lizard in a race and make some fast money. Despite the boy’s objections Mo takes Tarantula to the race. They follow and soon are caught up in pre-race excitement. Only the lizards seem unaffected. Bern discovers a surefire way to get the lizards running and they do. Bern and Cody are both sure they are responsible for their pet winning the race. However, Uncle Mo doesn’t get to keep the prize-money for very long. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard is a new offering from Omnibus in their ‘Mates’ series. Each is a tall tale, uniquely Australian. Bern and Cody rub along, gently bickering, but caring for their new pet. Each has their own talents. In rocks their chancer uncle, Mo, keen to eat Mum’s cooking and make a few quick quid. In How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard the humour is almost slap-stick, chapters are short, the illustrations are bright and humourous. Perfect! Added extras are the chook and the lizard in the header/footer. One chook slowly makes the journey through the pages to visit the second chook. A lizard moves in the opposite direction. These extra little ‘stories’ are for young readers to notice and enjoy, the way they enjoy the visual narrative as well as the words in a picture book. Recommended for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard (Mates)

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard (Mates), James Maloney ill Simone Linehan
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918146

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Crooked Mick, by Dave Luckett

One night in the Outback, when it was so dark that the stars looked like pinholes in a black velvet curtain, two bushmen were sitting by their campfire. One was a young bloke, a jackaroo. The other was a drover from out on the red-soil plains. He was pouring tea from the billy. The jackaroo was telling him a tall tale about a fish he had nearly caught. ‘That sounds like something that might happen on Speewah Station,’ the drover said when the story was finished.

Two men, a drover and a jackaroo are yarning over their fire, somewhere deep in the Australian inland, when they are unexpectedly joined by an old swaggie. The old swaggie joins their conversation and the three talk about a big property beyond the black stump and the legendary Crooked Mick. The property, Speewah Station, is enormous, and ‘so far out in the bush the crows fly backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes’. Crooked Mick was so powerful ‘he could split a hardwood log just by looking at it’. As the night progresses, the three men escalate the tales about Crooked Mick until at last the swaggie vanishes into the night, as silently as he arrived. Could he be the ghost of Crooked Mick?

There’s nothing so ‘Australian’ as a yarn from the bush and this one is as tall a tale as they get. Like children trying to outdo one another in the school yard, the men around the fire take turns at expanding on the rumours and stories they’ve heard. The legendary Speewah Station and the even more legendary Crooked Mick grow taller and broader by the second. The tale-telling ceases to be about the subjects and is more an imaginative game as the time progresses. Children will relate to the absurdity of the tall tales and the humour. Many will be inspired to create their own stories about Crooked Mick, or perhaps about their own lives. Great fun. Recommended for readers transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

Crooked Mick (Mates)

Crooked MickDave Luckett ill Andrew Joyner
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918153

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond .

You Turkeys, by Michael Gerard Bauer

Our backyard was Dad’s pride and joy. He loved the flowers in their chip bark beds and the row of little ball-shaped shrubs. He loved the neat compost heap and the square of bright green lawn with its dead-straight edges.
Then the scrub-turkeys came, and they loved our backyard too.

Jake’s dad is not happy when two scrub turkeys try to set up home in his beautiful garden. He chases them off, but when they come back the next day – and the next – his efforts to get rid of them become increasingly desperate. Jake’s little sister, Anna, says Daddy should share his yard, but Dad has other ideas.

You Turkeys! is a funny addition to the Mates series, a full colour illustrated chapter book for lower primary aged readers. Whilst the story is high in humour, and complemented by quirky illustrations, it also gives a gentle message about conservation and wildlife.

Aimed at beginning readers transitioning to chapter books, You Turkeys! is suitable for school or private reading.

You Turkeys! (Mates)

You Turkeys! (Mates), by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch
Omnibus, 2010
ISBN 978186291816

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

The Smartest Dog of All, by Ian Horrocks

My friends and I have a lot of dogs between us. Each of our dogs has its own personality – funny, sad, clever. Some are real dumb, but they are all different. Of course, my dog is my favourite dog. He is called Whitlam, which is a funny name for a dog, I agree. The original Whitlam was an Australian prime minister who got thrown out of government by the governor-general. I first heard the name one day when Dad and Grandpop were arguing about politics. They love arguing.

Whitlam is the runt of a litter of a puppies and arrives with little ceremony or expectation. But from the first he and a small boy are inseparable. The boy is convinced that Whitlam is the smartest dog of all. Whitlam likes attention but is happy as long as his boy is close and his name is mentioned occasionally. The boy’s eighth birthday party proves very exciting, particularly for a six-month-old puppy that feels that he is due some attention. And Whitlam does get some attention, just perhaps not the attention he anticipated. The Smartest Dog of All is a new title in Omnibus’ ‘Mates’ series. This series features very Australian tales told in very Australian style. The Smartest Dog of All is Australian from the political discussions between Dad and Grandpop to the birthday celebrations outside under the gum trees.

The Smartest Dog of All is a first chapter book for newly confident readers. The chapters are short and there are colour illustrations on every opening. Words that might challenge new readers are in different fonts, as if to highlight their newness and difference. The style is light and humourous. This is a tall tale with all the hallmarks of tall tales of old. It is told sincerely with the voice of an earnest young boy and it’s almost, almost believable. Illustrations are in coloured pencil and carry a humour all their own.

Recommended for newly-independent readers wanting to transition from picture books to longer books.

The Smartest Dog of All (Mates)

The Smartest Dog of All (Mates), Ian Horrocks, ill Sue deGennaro
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781862918108

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author